15 June 2014

Late Greater Spotted Eagle – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Whilst birding at Sabkhat Al Fasl 30 May 2014 I found a 2nd Calendar Year Greater Spotted Eagle along the edge of one of the main reed beds that looked in good health & could fly normally. It was quite a worn a faded individual and created an impression of a Lesser Spotted Eagle but the underwing barring was fine and did not reach the end of the feather as would have been the case for Lesser Spotted Eagle (Dick Forsman pers comm). The bird was in the same place on 8 June and this is quite a late record for the species. They are a regular passage migrant and winter visitor to Saudi Arabia with numbers increasing in recent years in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia suggesting the wintering population in the Arabian peninsula is increasing. Birds are generally present from late September until late April, with late April being quite late for migrants but Dick Forsman mentioned to me that young birds often linger in spring unlike adults, and late April is not too late for juvenile Great Spotted Eagles to be seen on their wintering grounds. This record from the end of May is vey late for a bird to still be on its wintering grounds and may indicate the bird will over-summer. There are only a few summer records of the species from Saudi Arabia with most summer records from Sabkhat Al Fasl, all of which were 2nd calendar year birds. Specifically: one seen 29 June, 13 July, 27 July, 10 August and 17 August 2007; one 28 August 2009 and one 12 August 2010 and 21 July to 18 August 2011. Sabkhat Al Fasl is a man-made wetland site that is located in the central coastal lowlands on the southwest border of Jubail industrial city. It consists of a large sabkha (salt flat) area surrounded by landfill and divided up by sand dams, fed by excess treated organic wastewater from Jubail industrial city. Some water is present at this site all year and some parts of the edge of the latter, and of the sabkha, are vegetated by large stands of Phragmites reeds and Tamarix scrub. This habitat is the favoured site for the wintering birds and would presumably be attractive to summering Greater Spotted Eagles. The only other published information regarding summer records of the species in Saudi Arabia was a mention of immature birds being present at Qatif, 70 km south of Jubail, involving three birds with one seen on 26 and 27 June 1980 that was thought to be a second summer (3rd calendar year) individual. The other two records were immatures seen in Qatif where one was seen 30 May 1980 and the other 15 May 1982. It was thought likely that a few non-breeding immature birds summered in the area when the habitat was more favourable, unfortunately the site was developed from late 1981. I have only been able to find one summer record of the species from other Arabian peninsula countries and this came from Bahrain where one was recorded throughout June 1984 at Al-Areen, and what was presumed to be the same bird again present from August 1984–March 1985 in a small grove by Ra’s Tubli. About 15 pairs of Greater Spotted Eagles formerly bred in northern Israel but this population is now extinct with the last nests recorded in the 1960s. There appear to be eight summer records of the Greater Spotted Eagle in Saudi Arabia, suggesting a very small number may spend the summer in the region.